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Rotator Cuff Tears & How We Fix Them

Updated: Feb 29

What exactly is your rotator cuff?

The rotator cuff comprises four muscles that originate on the scapula (your shoulder blade) and attach to your humerus – not your sense of humor, but rather the long bone in your upper arm. When these muscles contract, they rotate the humerus; that’s why it’s called a rotator cuff.


Your rotator cuff comprises one of two ball-and-socket joints you have in your body (the other is in your hip). These joints are partially spherical and lay in a socket, allowing multi-directional movement and rotation: therefore, a partially or fully torn rotator cuff makes it extremely difficult for you to maneuver your arm in the way you usually would.


What happens when you tear a rotator cuff?

Rotator cuff injury occurs when the tendons connecting the scapula to the humerus tear. The tear can range from mild to severe, and may worsen with time without proper care.


Rotator cuff tears can be a result of a traumatic injury caused by severe impact or repetitive overhead activity, such as swinging a golf club or lifting weights.


We also see a fair amount of rotator cuff tears among Colorado skiers and snowboarders. The most commonly torn muscle in the rotator cuff is a tendon called the supraspinatus tendon. The supraspinatus tendon’s job is to lift your arm when it contracts. This gives you the ability to do everything from raising your hand to swinging a tennis racket.


The most common symptoms of a torn rotator cuff include pain when resting, especially if lying on the injured shoulder, pain with specific movements in the affected arm, and a crackling sensation (crepitus) with particular arm and shoulder motions.


How to avoid rotator cuff injury:

Active individuals are at higher risk for rotator cuff tears, especially athletes in the Colorado High Country. You can prevent injury by implementing proper stretching techniques into your exercise plans. You can also strengthen your rotator cuff with low resistance/low repetition workouts.


Some examples of preventative exercises include reverse flys, high-to-low rows, side-lying external rotations, and doorway stretches.


Proper strengthening of the shoulder helps to condition the small muscles and tendons that make up the rotator cuff. Adequate warm-ups are especially important if you’ve injured your shoulder previously.


How do we fix rotator cuff tears?


When surgery is unavoidable, fixing the rotator cuff is pretty simple. We suture an anchor down in the top of the humerus bone, and we pass those sutures through the ruptured tendon in order to push the rotator cuff back down in place along the bone. This procedure is typically successful with arthroscopic surgery. Healing time requires up to eight weeks in a sling, followed by physical therapy.


If you think you might have torn or injured your rotator cuff, it’s imperative to consult a sports medicine expert as soon as possible. At Vail-Summit Orthopaedics, we provide some of the most highly rated shoulder surgery options and specialists in Colorado. Book your consultation today.